The new film adaptation of ‘Wonder Woman’ hit theaters earlier this month to rave reviews. In this reaction piece, I’ll tell you why it resonated so strongly with me and why the timing of its release in 2017 is serendipitous.
Warning: This article contains spoilers that reveal plot points of ‘Wonder Woman’.
After taking in the initial response to ‘Wonder Woman’, there was no question that this was going to be a film that broke barriers. In my 2015 review ‘Jessica Jones’ does the impossible, I referred to myself as a “fair-weather observer” of this genre of film and TV and the entire world of comics. While I have a great appreciation for the art and the people who love it, I’ve always been looking in from the outside. ‘Jessica Jones’ was the last time anything in this realm had permeated through to me. A year and a half later, ‘Wonder Woman’ has done it again, and in a spectacular way that nothing else has to date.
Before this film, I had a cursory knowledge of all things Wonder Woman and had an appreciation for the spirit of the character but didn’t know any of the details. Now, just as with ‘Jones’ before it, I’ve spent hours reading much more about the history and various iterations of the character to get lost in her world.
The thing about ‘Wonder Woman’ is that it’s not just a good superhero film—it’s a good film, period. Fans of hard-hitting action scenes got a great deal of them, those who appreciate fantasy worlds and expository fiction got a thoughtful and thoroughly developed origin story, and people like me who came to the film looking for emotional maturity and real heart at its core were not disappointed. This is a film that fired on all cylinders deftly and cleverly.
Several key moments in the film hit me emotionally. Within the first few minutes, watching a young Diana grow up on Themyscira, learning to embrace her fierce strength and agility without anyone at all (i.e. men) there to discourage her from being both intelligent and powerful, was refreshing and infinitely inspiring.
Later, after we were introduced to the adult Diana played by Gal Gadot (who was a brilliant choice for this role and executed it majestically), it was incredible to witness her gain the respect of and go on to lead a team of World War I soldiers and prove through her own ability that she was more than qualified to do so.
The heart that Gadot portrayed in her well-written character beamed boldly and brightly throughout the film. Where other films may gloss over the horrors of war, ‘Wonder Woman’ stopped to reflect on it. When she saw the vast devastation and realized not even she had the ultimate power to stop it all, it was heartbreaking to her—and it wasn’t trite, it was convincing. Near the climax of the film, where Chris Pine‘s Steve Trevor took off in that plane and sacrificed his life to save thousands, she channeled her shock and heartache into the bolt of energy that she needed to defeat Ares. Given the chance to crush a helpless Dr. Maru, she instead spared her out of mercy. Finally, when she found the photograph with her team taken earlier and paused in remembrance, well, that’s when the tears really fell.
It’s no coincidence that it took a woman lead to bring a greater level of depth and humanity to the genre, but what’s really impressive is the way ‘Wonder Woman’ pulled it off. If you ask me, there were no compromises—we didn’t lose anything that you’d want out of a superhero tale, action film, war story, or drama, but we gained a sense of sincerity and a coherent vision that turned out to be appealing to practically everyone. Impossible? Not this time.
Sick sad world
I would be remiss if I didn’t note the timely connection of ‘Wonder Woman’ to the newly ratcheted-up sick, sad world in which we find ourselves in 2017. It’s clear that this film is purposely and meaningfully a feminist allegory, full of moments that prove it from beginning to end. But director Patty Jenkins, whose execution of this film exceeded even the highest expectations, couldn’t have known back in 2015 that this is where we’d end up by the time of the film’s release.
To put it bluntly, I haven’t felt like writing about anything since the election. I’ve had so many thoughts about everything that has been happening, and while I’ve been expressing those thoughts daily in a stream of consciousness on Twitter (which I guess is only appropriate nowadays), it’s hard to string them together in a way that makes any sense when the world around us makes no sense.
Lately, the hope of President Obama’s era has felt fleeting—supplanted by an ongoing, crushing sick joke. We have to turn to fiction for inspiration, which may seem sad. But it ceases to be fiction when it brings about real-life action, and that’s what ‘Wonder Woman’ is doing. The landmark Women’s March in January signaled that we aren’t going away. Representation matters, and both grown women and a new generation of girls are finding a way forward in watching this demigoddess save the world—a beacon of hope.
I think writer Serenity Caldwell summarized it best—in a tweet, no less:
Also, what a message. Humankind may not always be worth saving, but you have to fight for your beliefs. In today’s world, especially.
— Serenity Caldwell (@settern) June 11, 2017
One of the most devastating revelations that Diana makes in ‘Wonder Woman’ is that Ares isn’t totally wrong—humans are awful. But instead of saying “fuck you” to everyone, she chose instead to focus on the good, kind, and compassionate people that do exist; and to commit her entire being to doing everything she can to help make the world a better place, despite the chaos.
At this unlikely point in time, Wonder Woman is the hero seeing us through.